The annual Analytics Without Borders (AWB) conference provides a forum for students, researchers, academics, business professionals, and government officials to explore and discuss the science and application of data analytics. For Bryant students interested in getting a headstart on the future this year's conference was a chance to learn more about the field and share their own research.
It was also an opportunity to excel. Bryant Data Science major Nathan Angell ’22 took first place in the conference’s undergraduate research competition with a project that trained a deep learning algorithm to detect pneumonia in chest X-rays. Jonathan Huntley ’21 and Kaitlyn Fales ’21, who shared the research they conducted through their Honors Theses, tied for third place. Huntley used Twitter sentiment analysis to study how external pressure affects the performance of Major League Baseball players and Fales analyzed the 2016 presidential election through the lens of different voter behavior models.
For Angell, Bryant’s success in the competition was no surprise. “I think the Bryant students who presented really cared about their projects,” he says. “We all had the opportunity to work on things that we really cared about and professors who helped us find our path.”
Analytics Without Borders, a joint partnership between Bryant, Tufts University, and Bentley University, promotes interdisciplinary collaboration and exploration across a number of areas in data analysis, including applied statistics, data science, and data visualization. That wide range of topics gave the Bryant students who attended a wider look at an emerging realm of science and technology and a view forward to potential future careers.
“One of the most important things I think you can do as a student is broaden your horizons. Working on projects, taking part in clubs, and going to conferences and presenting helps you become a better student.”
Held virtually due to COVID-19, the conference attracted a range of presenters and keynote speakers, each pushing the boundaries of their area of research. “It’s a great way for students to learn more about what academic research is all about,” says Kevin Mentzer ’91, Ph.D., an Associate Professor of Information Systems and Analytics at Bryant and one of the conference’s founders and organizers. AWB’s focus on transdisciplinary studies, he says, allows students to better understand how data analysis can be used in a wide variety of industries and to see how they can apply it to their own interests.
The conference was a perfect fit for Angell, a member of the Bryant Blockchain Club, which focuses on learning about new innovations in science and industry. “One of the most important things I think you can do as a student is broaden your horizons,” Angell says. “Working on projects, taking part in clubs, and going to conferences and presenting helps you become a better student.”
That focus on exploration was an important element of Angell’s competition-winning project. It grew out of a directed study course he developed with Assistant Professor of Mathematics Son Nyugen, Ph.D., that allowed him to explore his fascination with emerging technologies and artificial intelligence.
“At Bryant, we really value the high-touch aspect of the student/mentor relationship. I think it’s part of the responsibility of the faculty to provide these opportunities for students, and it’s an important aspect of academia.”
Through the course, Angell studied deep neural network and transfer learning models and used that knowledge to program an algorithm that studies chest X-rays and can detect signs of pneumonia within them with 91% accuracy.
The ability to add a hands-on element to his education, says Angell, has made a real difference. “It’s all about experience,” he notes. “More than quizzes, more than tests, the best way to learn is by doing projects like this.”
Angell worked side by side with Nyugen in his research, likening the approach to an apprenticeship and noting the value of having an experienced mentor. “They have so much experience in a prospective field and we’re literally just starting out,” he says. “Having someone next to you, who you can bounce ideas off of and receive critical feedback from, is very, very helpful.”
“At Bryant, we really value the high-touch aspect of the student/mentor relationship,” notes Mentzer. “I think it’s part of the responsibility of the faculty to provide these opportunities for students, and it’s an important aspect of academia.”
“The conference gives students the opportunity to see their work appreciated outside their normal environment and see how they stack up at a regional level. It’s an early chance for them to shine.”
The AWB undergraduate research competition, in which students’ presentations are judged on the creative application of data analytics concepts and the rigor of their research, gave Angell a chance to showcase his findings. “A conference like AWB is a good opportunity for students to take their research and present it at a professional level in a safe atmosphere. It’s a good way for them to sound out their work and receive important feedback,” states Mentzer.
“The conference gives students the opportunity to see their work appreciated outside their normal environment and see how they stack up at a regional level,” he adds. “It’s an early chance for them to shine.”
Nyugen was again invaluable in helping Angell prepare for presenting. “When I first created my presentation, I presented it to Professor Nyugen, who told me it was good but also gave me some very important critical feedback,” says Angell. “And once I incorporated that feedback it just flowed so much better.”
After sharing his work and answering questions from a panel of judges over Zoom, Angell was awarded first prize in the undergraduate research division by impressed judges. “Nathan’s work really pushed some of the boundaries of our field,” noted Mentzer.
“I see this project as a foundation. I don't know everything, but I know enough that I can use what I’ve learned to go on to the next step and just keep constantly moving one step forward.”
The next idea
More invaluable than any award, however, was the inspiration the students took away from the conference. “One of my mentors once told me, if you can go to a conference and come back with just one new idea, then it was a success. That’s what I tell every student today,” notes Mentzer.
Angell is already considering his next project: applying artificial intelligence to help people better understand the tax code and how it applies to them. “I truly believe we’re just at the tip of the iceberg,” he says. “There’s so many things we can do with this technology.”
“I see this project as a foundation,” he notes. “I don't know everything, but I know enough that I can use what I’ve learned to go on to the next step and just keep constantly moving one step forward.”